Ok, I posted yesterday (or day before, I don't remember) in the Pizza Stone baking section, but this seems more appropriate to continue the chronicle of my adventures in pizza cookery. I've actually been considering making a blog out of this, since it's still fairly early in my efforts, and I REALLY wanna build that oven in my backyard now... we'll see. Anyways.
Today, I hit a few Italian import shops for better ingredients - up to now I've been using the stuff you find at the grocery, with surprisingly good results in a couple of cases. But after reading the Forno Bravo site, I decided to seek out some of the "proper" stuff. Eventually I plan to order some of the stuff that Forno Bravo is hawking, but in the meantime, for those living here in Winnipeg, Manitoba, let this be your travelogue.
Real San Marzano tomatoes can be found at DeLuca's on Portage, under the Alba name (their house brand). They do have the proper bonafides, and are Choice grade with basil already added:
The added basil is not so good, as I prefer to add my own herbs, but the sauce I made was nonetheless fantastic, sweet and vivid, like the proverbial party in your mouth. They go for $3.75 a can, quite reasonable really. I did find one other brand of San Marzanos (forgot to check for the seal) at Piazza Di Nardi, which were a bit more pricey at $4.49 a can. I'll try them out at some point, though I can't see them being worth that much more.
I've always been a firm believer in the principle that it's a poor workman that blames his tools, but it's also gratifying when you get the right stuff to work with and things just seem to come together, as was the case with the sauce. Where the regular tomatoes you find at Safeway (any brand) come out watery and tasteless, these San Marzanos really are worth the extra coin, if you like to taste your food that is...
Less happy was the flour situation. I did, after much searching, find a few bags of 00 flour, on the bottom shelf at Piazza Di Nardi:
I was surprised, with the fairly large local Italian population, that nobody else was carrying it. I asked Tony at DeLuca about it, and he said that he had brought it in before, but he sold very little. I told him that if he brought some in I promised I would buy it, but considering that Forno Bravo appears to ship for free to Canada, I may just go with their brand, as it's not much more than the stuff around here.
I decided, in making the dough, to not add any gluten, just to see what this flour could do on its own. The first thing I noticed is that it seems to need a lot less water than the local all-purpose flour - with the same recipe I used last time, it sucked up at least an extra 1-1.5 cups of flour, and still stuck to the bowl. I ended up using one entire bag.
Forming the crusts was not as easy as with the domestic flour w/ added gluten - it stretched, but it also popped a few holes, and was generally a lot more temperamental than the last attempt. In the end, I had to resort to a rolling pin, at which point it behaved quite nicely, but still, it wasn't that nice stretchy dough that the guys in New York toss around.
Oh yeah, I also got some of DeLuca's own in-house Mozzarella, which was just freakin' amazing. Me and my girlfriend were both nibbling at it the whole time I was cooking, and I had to resort to some Safeway plastic stuff to finish up the last pizza. You could really see the difference between the two cheeses when the pizza was cooked - the rich, creamy looking DeLuca cheese vs. the washed-out, semi-transparent Lucerne stuff.
Anyways, I also adjusted the baking parameters - James suggested I turn the temperature up, which I did. I ended up with the opposite from problem from before - the crust, on the first couple of pizzas, cooked too fast, while the top just barely made it. I adjusted the temp down to about 450 or so, and the last pizza came out just about perfect. I'm thinking that next time I'll start by preheating at 550 for an hour or so, and then turn it down to 450 15 minutes or so before baking.
I'm also still working on the proper amount of flour to put on the peel - I always seem to have to shake the zza a little too hard to get it sliding before I put it in the oven, and the toppings inevitably get shook up, and on the last one especially, a lot of cheese ended up on the counter, and I had to put some more on before it went in the oven.
I should've taken some pics of the final products, but I wasn't really thinking about documenting at the time. I think for my next experiment, I'm gonna go back to adding the gluten as well as using about 3/4 of the water. I also am gonna order some of the good flour from FB, just to see what that stuff is like, though I can't see ordering it habitually - the way I see it, when all those Italian immigrants came to New York, the only thing they had from the old country was the recipes, at least at first, and they made do with what was available locally. Similarly, in the long run I'm probably gonna go with local ingredients as much as possible, with the definite exception (obviously) of the olive oil... although those San Marzanos are gonna be a hard habit to kick, so we'll see about that.
We've got another one hooked for life. :D
RevJ, you're making a lot of progress really fast. I think it took me a couple of years to do what you did in 48 hours. Beware of any "mozzarella" not stored in water. Imported is a lot better, but pretty pricey. Once you start using good tomatoes, you can't go back. Beware of generic Tipo00 flour. It can be pastry flour made for Biscotti, and won't make a good pizza -- too droopy.
Did you put your stone on the bottom rack? If you have convection, you should use that. I'm surprise the bottom cooked faster than the top -- but hey, every oven is different.
Salute. Buon appetito.
Heh... I was hooked going in, it's more that I've suddenly found a steady supplier...
As for my fast progress, it helps to have a good resource at your disposal :>
My oven isn't convection, just a basic old oven - I did have the stone on the bottom rack, barely an inch or two above the element, but I moved it up one notch when the first crust came out so dark so fast. As you say, every oven is different, and will have its own point of equilibrium. I'll keep posting, at least until I cook the perfect zza as I conceive of it. :>
Try straight flour
If you put the right amount of wheat flour (farina di tenere) on your peel, I think you will be rewarded with a nicer pizza. The flour keeps the pizza sliding, without making a major commitment to corn meal. It's true that corn meal is more slippery, but it leaves both a texture and taste that you cannot ignore.
I'm gonna need to start inviting people over for dinner - we're still working on the leftover pizza from last night, and if I start stockpiling I'll get my ass kicked... :>
Yeah, but good pizza is good for you:
a dash of salt
A handful of arugola
I think we need to have a nutritionalist analyze Pizza Napoletana. The Caputo family think it has about 1/3 the calories and fat of a chain pizza restaurant. It's a health food.
Wellll... the white flour ain't good. No fibre, no nutrients - the bran and germ are where all the good stuff resides, aside from the bit of protein in the gluten, which has its own problems. So while good ingredients make for a WAY better pizza than the greezy junk at Pizza Hut, the white flour pretty much disqualifies it from "good for you" status.
Now ask me if I care... :>
(actually, I do - my really longterm goal is to develop a good recipe for 100% whole wheat crust. But that's a ways off.)
A quote to remember from Julia Child when she was interviewed by a very prissy woman from a California health magazine: Q: "Julia, How would you rate food in North America now?" Big Julie's answer: "Food here used to be just fine until the nutritionists got hold of it."
And another from the same interview. Q: "Julia, you look terrific. What would you advise for all of us who want to age like you have?" Big Julie's answer: "Red meat and gin."
For one thing, red meat today is not the same red meat that Julia ate for most of her life. Modern factory farming means that the meat we get is made of different stuff, nutritionally speaking, and is also full of antibiotics, dyes and other chemicals. I once read a letter from a veterinarian who pointed out that where farm vets used to come and cure sick animals, the modern farm vets' job is to suppress the disease until it's time to send the cow to slaughter. BSE, E.Coli... you get the picture.
If you want to try an experiment sometime, find your local dealer of organic, grass-fed (grass-fed is important for this comparison to work - all beef used to be grass-fed, but most of it is grain-fed these days) beef, and buy a cut, any cut, of meat from them. Then go to your supermarket and get the same cut, and cook the two of them using the same process/spices etc. If you don't taste a significant difference, you don't have any taste buds. The first time I tried grass-fed beef, it was revelatory, because it tasted like the beef I used to have as a kid, only better.
This is just one example. Julia does actually have a point, but it doesn't mean that we should march the nutritionists up to the wall just yet. Don't forget, she came from the days before there was a McDonald's on every block. A more accurate statement would be that "Food here used to be just fine until the corporations got ahold of it."
Bottom line? Mass production is fine for some things, but anyone who's willing to spend two hours burning logs in their backyard oven and then shovel out the ashes before they even get to start cooking their Tipo00 flour and handpicked San Marzano tomatoes knows damn well that food isn't one of them. :>
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